Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Book Review x 2

A Short History of Canada
Canadian history is by no means famous for being interesting. Rather it is probably more notorious for being, for the most part, boring. The problem is that Canadian history is mostly peaceful with most issues of concern being industrial development, creating a national self-identity and freeing itself from its British colonial past. The exception being the history of struggle with Quebec which is quite interesting. Having said that, Desmond Morton does manage to make a rather dull history into an interesting enough tale of colourful political characters and social tensions. The similarity between Canadian and Australian history in the matters of creating national self-identity and freeing itself from its British colonial past also made it much easier to empathise and appreciate the story all the more. However unless you have a specific interest in Canada, history or preferably both this may not make for a riveting read.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

I stumbled onto this book just recently. It only came out last month and is a cartoon of North Korea written by a French-Canadian animator who spent two months in North Korea overseeing an animation production. He did the cartoons of his stay in North Korea in his spare time. It covers all the standard experiences of expats that we have come to hear about - visits to statues and shows of robot-esque kids that make you feel sad rather than impressed, and jaw-dropping comments from apparently brainwashed guides. The best jaw droppers were the explanation that people doing hard labour jobs on Sundays and in their 'spare' time were "volunteers" and that North Koreans have no handicapped people because they don' t breed with foreigners. But the medium of cartoon and his insights into daily life of the tiny expat community in Pyongyang are what make this book totally enjoyable and amusing. As a cartoon it is also very quick and only takes a short time to read.

Shenandoah National Park

On Sunday past my friend and I decided to hire a car and hit the road. We arrived at the rental place and the guy liked the look of us and instead of our "cheapest crap you have" booking he gave us a nice sporty mustang to cruise around in. So we headed out to see the Fall leaves at Shenandoah.

After the National Park we headed over to check out the Luray caverns which were really very impressive.

These pics are of a lake in the cave that gives a perfect mirror image of the ceiling so what appears to be stalagmites are actually the lake reflection of the stalactites. Cool, hey?

Fistacuffs Narrowly Avoided at Simon Winchester's Book Reading

After recently finishing Simon Winchester's book, "Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles" I was happy to see that he was giving a book reading at my favourite DC bookstore Politics and Prose. His new book is about the San Francisco 1906 earthquake and seemed quite interesting but the real excitement came in the Q&A session. SW had made the comparison, apparently also in the book, about the different response to the SF disaster as opposed to other earlier disasters in particular in who was to blame. In the past, it was standard to think that a catastrophe, he noted, was typically the work of angry Gods. The standard M.O being to placate said Gods by killing those who probably made them angry - Pagans, heretics, foreigners, anyone. For example, in the Lisbon earthquake the priests rounded up heretics and burned them. This last comment was the controversy. Firstly, one guy noted that SW had earlier said the heretics were "hanged" not "burned". So which was it? We all had a chuckle as such a fiddly point and SW answered he would probably have to recheck but it might be likely that there was a bit of both going on.

Next question. Next guy was some crazed old white man who was so angry that his hands were visibly shaking who stood there and loudly accused SW of incompetency etc for not having sources or knowing the real story of who killed the heretics in Lisbon, who authorised their killing and by what means they were killed. Despite several pleas that he ask a question the audience, and in particular a burly man, become quite vocal and started chanting that the crazy man either "ask a question or shut up". Fortunately he was eventually shouted down. The problem here, as I see, is not that the man had a grievance with the research of the book, it was his means of raising the issue. Surely an email or polite chat to SW after the signings would be more appropriate and certainly could not have been less effective. As it was he came across as nothing but a screaming nutter who tainted an otherwise very pleasant event.

When signing my book SW and I both agreed that Korea is indeed a lovely country.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui